Cyclone Fani, which has turned into a “very severe cyclonic storm”, is likely to make landfall in India’s Odisha this afternoon and shake southwestern Bangladesh in the evening.
Coastal districts in the southwest are feared to be affected by the “peripheral” effect of Fani, the Met office said.
“We think the cyclone will start crossing Bangladesh tomorrow evening [this evening] and remain in the country’s territory until Saturday morning,” said Shamsuddin Ahmed, director of Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD).
However, he added that this was not certain as the cyclone could change its course.
The Met office has asked Mongla and Payra port authorities to hoist “danger signal-7”, which means a storm with wind speeds between 62kph and 88kph is likely to pass over or near the areas.
Chittagong Port was asked to hoist “danger signal-6”, which is a less severe warning.
Last night, the wind speeds within 74km from the eye of the storm was between 160kph and 180kph.
The cyclone is likely to cause five- to six-feet high storm surges, the Met office said. Heavy rain is expected.
Following an inter-ministry meeting at the Secretariat yesterday, the government decided to move people living in risky areas across 19 coastal districts to 4,071 cyclone shelters by today.
“We will start evacuating people from risky areas at 10:00am tomorrow [today],” said Md Shah Kamal, senior secretary of the disaster management and relief ministry.
The ministry also opened a hotline (1090) for any information regarding the storm.
The government has cancelled holidays of all government officials posted in the coastal districts and also opened control rooms there to respond to emergencies.
Under the influence of Fani and the new moon phase, the low-lying areas of Chattogram, Noakhali, Laxmipur, Feni, Chandpur, Barguna, Bhola, Patuakhali, Khulna, Barishal, Pirojpur, Jhalakathi, Bagerhat, Khulna, Satkhira and their off-shore islands are likely to be inundated, the Met office said.
Nearly 26 percent of the country’s people live in these districts, according to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
Originating from a depression over the southeast Bay on April 29, Fani was roosting around 735km southwest of Mongla and 910km southwest of Chittagong Port and was proceeding towards Odisha at 15kph, according to a special bulletin of the Met office issued at 12:00am today.
As the storm kept picking up speed, the sea was becoming turbulent with stronger gale-force winds.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, now in London, asked the authorities concerned to take all precautionary measures.
“The prime minister has instructed all departments concerned to take all kinds of precautionary steps and remain alert to minimise the loss of lives and property during the cyclonic storm,” her Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim told BSS.
He said the PM was monitoring the situation round-the-clock.
All port authorities have already suspended the loading and offloading of goods from vessels at the outer anchorages. All fishing boats were asked to take shelter immediately.
The operations of launch and speedboat services, and many ferry services, including those from Mawa and Paturia, were suspended until further notice, Kazi Shakil Newaz, secretary of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), told The Daily Star.
The BIWTA also suspended leaves of all its officials and employees, he said.
The Indian government will close Kolkata airport at 9:00pm today and open it at 6:00pm tomorrow while the authorities at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka asked all carriers to ensure proper tie-down of their aircraft and equipment on the tarmac.
“All departments, including the coast guard, police, Border Guard Bangladesh, local administrations, and fire service and civil defence are on high alert,” the home minister told journalists after a cabinet committee meeting.
The Inter Services Public Relations in a press release last night said the army, navy and air force were ready to face the Fani aftermath.
The Higher Secondary Certificate exams scheduled for Saturday have been rescheduled for May 14.
The Department of Agricultural Extension said crops on 3,668 hectares in the coastal districts were vulnerable as paddy was at the flowering stage.
Bangladesh named the storm Fani, according to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department website.
The BBC Bangla reported that Fani is one of the 64 names Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Oman, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan had given as names of storms in 2004. The countries make up a regional committee of the World Meteorological Organisation.
Fani means the hood of a snake, it said.
All but seven of the 64 names proposed by the regional committee has been used.
Our Chattogram bureau office and correspondents in Khulna, Bagerhat, Barishal, Patuakhali, Jhalakathi, Pirojpur, and Noakhali contributed to the story.